On Sept. 15, the Emerson nonprofit adopted the equines after the animals were seized from Hidden Meadows Equine Rescue in West Virginia. In all, more than 50 horses and two cows were taken from the horse rescue organization due to the animals' alarming health and living environment. The overcrowded property and limited food and water supplies resulted in the animals being severely malnourished, with more than six horses having to initially be euthanized.
"I was very shocked," said Heather Boyd, a staff instructor for Blue Skies Riding Academy, who traveled to West Virginia for the adoption with co-worker Sami Malik. "We were very disheartened because the rescue they were at we trusted that they were in good hands and that they were being taken care of. And to see them in that condition was very depressing, but now we've got them. We've saved them and we know that they're all going to good homes and they are all looking forward to better lives now.
"You could tell a lot of them had just been neglected. A lot of them had not had their feet cared after in quite a while. They had long feet. Then the thoroughbreds were very emaciated," she said, noting their bone structure was visible. "Some of the other horses had some injuries that needed to be taken care of and it was very obvious that they had not be taken care of. But the worse sight to see was the emaciated thoroughbreds. On the thoroughbreds, there's a scale that we usually judge horses on. It's one to 10, 10 being obese and one being really no body fat. There were six horses there that graded as a one and one of the horses we took graded as a two. We actually had to make special arrangements on our trailer for him and had to stop every hour and make sure he was OK."
Like Boyd, Blue Skies Riding Academy President Beverly Malik also was disheartened to learn about the horses' condition. Along with being malnourished, she said their coats also contained bite and kick marks due to having to compete for food and water in cramped quarters.
"I was very shocked because we had visited there several times and we had adopted seven equines from Hidden Meadows Equine Rescue last December," Malik said. "Then we had been up there last fall and she was running a pretty good operation. So I was shocked and then I was outraged. ... There was no doubt in my mind that we were going to do whatever we could.
"We knew a lot of these equines personally. We knew their names and we knew who they were and we had regular e-mails detailing their progress and their illnesses. We already were emotionally attached to quite a few of them. We had names with the faces and we could not turn away from that."
Presently, the three adopted equines -- a quarter horse and two thoroughbreds ranging in age from 30 months to 17 years -- are slowly regaining their strength at Blue Skies Riding Academy, with a diet of senior feed, beef pulp and hay. While their physical recovery may span two months to more than six months, their emotional scars will not be as easy to heal, Malik said.
"We are very, very committed to [rescuing horses] because we just see horses that are thrown away, especially thoroughbreds," said Malik, adding Blue Skies Riding Academy, which was formed in 2008, cares for 22 rescued horses. "They're bred indiscriminately. Everybody is hoping for the next Secretariat or Barbaro or something like that. And for every one of those, there are 10,000 thoroughbreds, who are just cast aside and sent to slaughter and it just breaks my heart. We see this in the quarter horse industry too that the real performers get their names in lights, but for every real performer there are another 10,000 horses that mostly they go to slaughter, either that or they starve to death.
"They are pastured somewhere and they starve to death and I have a problem with [that]. My daughter, Sami, was one of the girls that went up there to pick up these horses and work with animal control. I wanted her to understand because she's ridden since she was 6 years old that horses aren't a play toy, that they are living, feeling beings. And just go back a second when you talk about, 'How quickly will they physically recover?' I can estimate that but how long it will take them to mentally recover is another story because horses have very long memories."
As they recuperate, the horses will be blended into the nonprofit's offerings, initially helping students learn grooming techniques and how to lead a horse. Later, the equines will be utilized for lessons at Blue Skies Riding Academy, which currently instructs about 65 students in their riding and equine care programs. The organization also provides lessons for foster care children through a privately funded offering.
For Boyd, the image of the adopted horses recovering at Blue Skies Riding Academy is a sight to behold, especially knowing their horrendous past.
"We're all filled with a lot of hope for them," she said. "We're very happy that we could give them a good home with us. Our kids are very happy to see them. Everyone is very welcoming and excited to see their progress as they get to put weight on and get healthy again. And once they're healthy we'll start the training on them and hopefully get them worked into the lesson program. So we're all very excited to watch them bloom, so to say."
For more information about Blue Skies Riding Academy, visit www.blueskiesridingacademy.com. Financial donations currently are being accepted to cover the three adopted horses expenses ranging from veterinarian and dental visits to winter blankets.